SHERIDAN - Protesters against domestic violence quietly filled seats in the rear of an empty courtroom Thursday night, as Judge Lydia Romer met to conference with Assistant District Attorney (D.A.) Randi Brown and John Schober, attorney for William Prost, the corrections officer accused of domestic violence charges. At each hearing, the Prost case has been last on the docket, so at 8:30 p.m., it was the last court business under discussion and the court was otherwise deserted.
Earlier in the night, the protesters also entered the court. "I told the protesters they were welcome to come in - it's an open court - and to take seats, but they couldn't have the signs. I asked if they could please put the signs in the hallway, then they could come back in and take seats and they all left," Romer said. The protesters returned to the Route 20 roadside across from the court house with their signs until Prost's case was ready to be heard.
Romer said the purpose of the court appearance Thursday was to schedule a trial.
"We have an open courtroom. ... The message is there, but I'm not influenced by that. We're going to schedule a trial," she said.
Prost, 52, of Stone Quarry Road, Fredonia is charged with two misdemeanors, third-degree assault and criminal obstruction of breathing after an alleged domestic incident on May 8. It is alleged Prost struck his live-in girlfriend in the face and covered her mouth and nose with his hand, preventing her from breathing.
Prost was not present in the courtroom. Schober, his attorney, filed an affidavit to the judge during the last court appearance in June.
"Mr. Prost does not have to appear for ministerial things," Judge Romer explained.
At the last court appearance, the judge issued time for "discovery," meaning a period of time for the defendant to prepare a case, come to an understanding of the charges, access all of the evidence, and do any other investigation to prepare for trial.
While the original plan was to schedule a trial date, a recent twist in the local judicial system has caused some changes: it was the last night of service in the area for Assistant D.A. Randi Brown, who is set to leave to begin a new life in Key West, Fla., on Friday.
"I cannot schedule a date with only two weeks notice for a new (assistant D.A.) to get up to speed. it would just get overturned, and then it would be another six months and we'd be right back here again," Romer told those present in the court room.
Romer appeared before the courtroom after meeting with Brown and Schober. She made it clear she was not legally bound to explain the proceedings to those present.
"I wanted to take the time to explain to you what is going on. You have all been here (at each of the hearings). You're been supportive of the victims. Unfortunately, the wheels of justice don't always turn as fast as we might like. And Mr. Prost is entitled to a speedy trial. I think it will probably be the end of September or mid-October. ... I'm cautious, especially given the seriousness of the case. ... Our system of justice isn't perfect, but that's why I do what I do. Without our system, we could be looking at something worse. It's not perfect, but we try." She added "You are all welcome to come back in September (when the trial date is expected to be set.)"
Romer also thanked the protesters for good behavior in the courtroom.
Brown said her departure does not mean her office will take the case any less seriously, and Romer noted the D.A. has made it clear they are making "no offers" to Prost on the case.
"My office is taking this matter very, very seriously," Brown told those present.
The new assistant D.A., Gary Drab, has been handed the case files. When asked by a protester in the court room if Drab is "aggressive" as an attorney, Brown replied, "Yes, he is very aggressive," but noted he might not be the attorney assigned to the case once the trial date was set.
The next court date is set for Thursday, Sept. 20, with court beginning at 6 p.m.
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